As early voting for this semester’s Associated Students of the University of New Mexico election start today, one community organizer has criticized two presidential candidates.

At an endorsement forum Wednesday at the Student Union Building, Golden Key Honor Society President Israel Chavez bashed incumbent Isaac Romero and ASUNM Sen. Colt Balok, both vying for the undergraduate student government’s presidency. Romero, who’s bidding for a second term, is running with the Forward UNM slate, while Balok is running with the Team You slate.

Chavez said he is offended that the two candidates did not attend the endorsement forum.

“The other candidates running for the presidency decided that it wasn’t important enough for them to come to the endorsement forum, which is the only forum where students are allowed to publicly ask candidates questions,” he said.

Chavez said he specifically criticizes Romero because his first presidential term has been “centered on exclusion.” Chavez said he is disappointed not to see the incumbent at the event and that he would not be able to ask questions to Romero about his first presidential term.

“President Romero had consistently made himself the be-all and end-all of positions for the student body… especially when dealing with matters like the Lottery. He’s running on this platform of inclusion; however his actions in the past and the administration that he has run have been a pattern of exclusion. I think he realized that people were going to ask him questions about that, and he did not feel prepared to answer to that.”

Romero faced opposition in February from groups that believed he was misrepresenting them when ASUNM representatives handed out fliers on UNM Day at the state Legislature stating students supported Senate Bill 150. The bill would have increased the minimum GPA required to keep the scholarship from 2.5 to 2.75. Romero later apologized for the incident.

Chavez said he does not have as big of a problem as with Balok.

“Colt is a non-issue,” Chavez said. “I have no concern with Colt.”

But Sharif Amlani, campaign manager for Romero’s slate, said the incumbent was unable to attend the forum because he was stuck in a three-hour class. Amlani said Romero was also unable to talk to the Daily Lobo.

“This is a once-a-week class, so it’s important for President Romero to attend,” he said. “He always tells candidates that they are students first.”

Amlani said he disagrees with Chavez’s claim that Romero has not been inclusive during his first term as president. Amlani said Forward UNM aims to work on initiatives such as more universal bathrooms on campus to include students belonging to minority populations.

“One of our main principles is inclusion—including small student voices, including more gay, lesbian, racial inclusion,” he said. “Our slate is made up of people from all around campus… the notion that his term has brought exclusion is completely false. Our campaign demonstrates that we are absolutely for inclusion.”

The endorsement forum is organized by ASUNM’s Elections Commission every semester.

Malika Ladha, chair of the Elections Commission, said Chavez should not put out criticisms to the commission. She said candidates are not required to attend the forum.

“He was attacking us for candidates not showing up when really, it’s not our responsibility to ensure that candidates come to this endorsement forum, it is not a mandatory event,” she said. “It’s really up to the candidates to take the initiative and take the time to talk their constituents.”

Among all presidential candidates, only ASUNM President Pro-Tempore Rachel Williams, who is running with the Connect ASUNM slate, attended the forum.

Williams said students should vote for her because she cares deeply about the UNM community.

“The ASUNM President should be more than just a leader,” she said. “At the end of the day, the ASUNM president should be caring, kind, and loving and selfless. The ASUNM should be willing to put anyone and everyone before them particularly students, which I believe that ASUNM is missing right now… I’m all of those things.”

Williams said that as president, she would promote inclusion on campus by working with initiatives with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She said that if elected, she aims to reach out to students for input on future projects.

“Something that I’m currently working on is working with the universal restrooms, which is a bit of a collaboration between QSA and the LGBTQ Resource Center,” she said. “I guess the primary step is to just sit down and talk ad figure out what’s important to the students.”

Undergraduate students can participate in early voting today at the SUB’s main level. Regular voting begins Wednesday.